Consumers’ input is crucial to building a better health system. It’s equally crucial to public policy debates around our nation’s health care. Policy-makers need to hear from people who will be directly affected by the policies they are considering, but those individuals don’t usually have the experience, skills or training necessary to act as advocates. They also don’t always have the resources of large private interests, which can purchase advertising time, employ lobbyists and commission studies and reports to support their positions.
An ambitious joint effort of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Community Catalyst gave state-based consumer health advocates the resources they needed to play a central role in the debate around health reform. Today, Consumer Voices for Coverage (CVC) is helping those advocates provide guidance as states work to implement the Affordable Care Act.
CVC helps state advocates:
- Conduct policy research and analysis;
- Organize at the grassroots level;
- Design and execute strategic communications plans;
- Build coalitions and maintain strategic alliances;
- Develop and implement policy campaigns; and
- Cultivate relationships with funders to sustain their work
The CVC coalitions could not match the financial resources of corporate and other well-funded interests, but they overcame that by connecting with community organizations, churches and synagogues, small businesses and civic groups to recruit a “citizen army” of advocates. Those citizens were able to speak to their own experiences and concerns about health care and put a human face on complex issues and inform policy debates with information about how policies would affect real people.
CVC coalitions also reached out to policy institutes, state advocacy organizations, legal services, hospitals, unions and health professional associations. These broad coalitions reinforced the fact that health care is something that affects everyone and is something that people across the political spectrum and with diverse agendas can embrace.
The CVC helped advocates master the difficult work of policy analysis and grounding that analysis in the experiences of real people. They created and delivered reports to policy-makers on the impact of potential policy solutions and shared personal stories about health care, using traditional and new media to reach out to larger audiences. They helped to inform other members of the public about the changes health care reform brought and how to navigate this new health insurance system, and they provided important feedback to national leaders about the impact of proposed reform measures on consumers in their states.
The CVC coalition members learned to develop and implement dynamic, targeted and effective communications campaigns—delivering messages, framing public discussion and using stories combined with data and analysis to make compelling cases for their policy recommendations.
The coalitions also became adept at responding to changes in the political and economic climates. They changed their tactics and focus as needed when the recession hit and states began rethinking their plans for health reform.
An evaluation of the program by Mathematica revealed that it is highly effective to train consumers to be strong, savvy advocates who understand and know how to work with state government, and that the effects of that training are lasting.
Today, policy-makers and regulators see state consumer advocates as equal partners at the table and a crucial stakeholder group. Making sure consumers’ voices are heard and their needs are considered is not always easy, but it is necessary. CVC has proven that it is possible. The CVC coalitions have laid the groundwork for the road ahead.